Top things to do in Crete - Omalos, Chania
Approximately 40 kms away from the city of Chania , after driving upwards and to the south , you reach a mountain top from where you get the first panoramic view of the famous Omalos Plateau (25 sq. kms.) lying before you. Move downwards for a while and you come to the heart of the plateau with the hospitable, traditional little taverns where you can taste various traditional dishes and see for yourself what Cretan hospitality is like! Enjoy “vrasto” (delicious boiled meat) “pilafi” (rice cooked in meat broth) “graviera” (local “gruyere” cheese), “staka”, Cretan “kalitsounia”, the rich in aroma local wine, honey, and raki- all local products. Most of these establishments also have rooms for rent and all the necessary facilities to make your stay as comfortable as possible.
The road continues for about 2 kms. and leads to the famous “Xyloskalo” which overlooks the entrance to the world renown Samaria Gorge- the gorge of unique natural beauty which has been awarded international prizes and is visited by thousands of people from all over the world each year. Approximately 1 km. before you reach Xyloskalo, situated at a place called “Machi”, on your right as you drive on, you will come to the residential complex of “Agriorodo” belonging to the local Lakki- Omalos Development Association (known as EALO from the Greek initials). It is a really unique complex consisting of 5 detached houses and 2 two-storey ones, all fully furnished. They are built of stone, retaining their traditional style but also fully equipped and designed to make your stay pleasant and comfortable should you choose to spend your holidays here.
If you do choose to stay in Omalos for some days , it is certain that you will enjoy moments of tranquility and relaxation but you will also be given the opportunity to get to know the wild natural beauty of the area of Omalos and the surrounding White Mountains and to accumulate unprecedented experiences and memories!
Recommendations for a very special stay (what to do while staying in Omalos )
• The first and most important thing you can do while staying in Omalos is what thousands of visitors do every year: traverse the Samaria Gorge. Get up early in the morning, go down “Xyloskalo” and, after a journey of approximately 16 kilometres, you reach Agia Roumeli, situated on the southern coast of Crete. After resting there for a while and, possibly, enjoying some of the local delicacies in the little taverns at the seafront, you can catch a boat back to Hora Sfakion. From there you can go back to the City of Hania by car or bus and then on to Omalos again. Another option after exiting the gorge is to head for Sougia village (in a western direction as you come out of the gorge ) and to have made arrangements for somebody to drive you back to Omalos.
Even though all this may sound complicated it is not advisable to walk up the Gorge and back to Omalos- this may be suitable for those who are well acquainted with hiking and trekking. It is best to
have somebody pick you up from Hora Sfakion or Sougia village and drive you back to the Plateau.
• Visit the Museum of Natural History which lies at a very short distance from the “Agriorodo” complex (approx. 200 m.) There you can get your first information on the rich fauna and flora of the area. Continue your journey towards Xyloskalo which lies just ahead. At the EALO Refreshment Hall you can enjoy a delicious breakfast- traditional or continental-, drink hot or cold herb teas such as the famous “malotira” or mountain tea as others call it. It comes from an indigenous plant found high up on the surrounding mountain slopes of the White Mountains. Don’t be quick to say that you have already tasted it. Ask them to boil it together with a couple of sprigs of “mantzourana”- the aroma and the taste of the beverage will remain unforgettable!
• Go upwards for another 300 m., following the road to the left and behind the Refreshment Hall, and visit the traditional EALO Restaurant. The building, made of grey granite stone, in perfect harmony with the landscape, formerly belonging to the Greek Tourist Bureau and now to the local EALO, literally hangs over the entrance of the Samaria Gorge. Order and taste local products cooked according to genuine traditional Cretan recipes. Enjoy your meal on the veranda of the Restaurant with a breathtaking view of the grandeur of the Gorge on the one hand and the tall, least accessible “Giggilos”- the mountain of Zeus- on the other! Enjoy “vrasto” (delicious boiled meat) “pilafi” (rice cooked in meat broth) “graviera” (local “gruyere” cheese), “staka”, Cretan “kalitsounia”, the rich in aroma local wine, honey, and raki- all local products. And, if you are lucky, while enjoying your meal you may have the chance to see-on the slopes opposite the Restaurant- the world famous “kri-kri” grazing or drinking water from the rare mountain springs. This unique wild mountain goat or agrimi, as it is also known, (found only in this area and under protection by the Greek state because it was in danger of extinction) is the symbol of freedom and the unconquerable spirit of the Cretan people and,as such, has been sung in many local Cretan traditional songs.
• If you are a true fan of nature and you enjoy hiking, follow the path uphill to the southwestern side of Xyloskalo. This is a trail along which vegetation gradually becomes scantier and the tall, centuries-old cypress trees and maple trees give their place to huge boulders of various, impressive shapes and sizes creating a landscape of truly unique, imposing wild beauty! After the last huge rocks- having climbed for 2 hours and reaching an altitude of 1500m. – you come to “Linosseli”, the spring with the crystal-clear, freezing, “sacred” waters which used to be an ancient Greek place of worship. The very daring can follow the path uphill and after a while reach the “Seli of Giggilos” and then on to the top of the granite rock giant at 2008m. The amazing panoramic view from this peak makes up for all the effort : you get the feeling of being on the top of the world with a breathtaking view of the area extending from the city of Hania to Kolymbari, the Samaria Gorge, the Libyan Sea to the south and Gavdos Island, the Gorge of Tripiti and the tallest peaks of the White Mountains- Psari, Melidaou, Pachness, Volakias (2217 m. )!
• Another, equally impressive route for nature lovers is the one starting right on the opposite side of “Machi” (where the situation of the residential complex is)- the route leading to the Kallergis Mountain Refuge for Climbers . You can go up by car as long as it is suitable for dirt roads or –why not? – on foot. The climbing -about 5 kms. or 1 hour and a half –is magnificent! Fill your lungs with the fresh mountain breeze, inhale the aroma of the tall, impressive cypress trees, maple trees and pine trees. Take a deep breath and enjoy the scent of the rich flora of the area: malotira (mountain tea), mantzourana, faskomilia (sage) and so many other herbs well known to the locals and used through the centuries as beverages or for healing purposes. As you climb higher you may even come across the “agriorodo” (wild rose) after which the residential complex was named. It is an indigenous, self-sown plant with beautiful white flowers resembling a peony only smaller in size, emitting a subtle, sweet scent. When you reach the top and the Mountain Shelter enjoy an unforgettable view of the Samaria Gorge lying directly below-the “Faraggas” or Great Gorge as the locals proudly called it! Maybe, in the cracks of the rock sides of the Gorge, you will catch sight of the “Diktamos” or “Love plant” as it has been known to the locals through the ages- an indigenous, self-sown plant with healing qualities. However, make no attempt at picking it- it has proved extremely dangerous even for those who are well acquainted with mountain climbing and the rough landscape!
• However tempting the above-mentioned routes may seem, they are not necessarily the only ones. You can follow easier, less strenuous ones. There are numerous, small or larger, paths which you can follow and do a little walking or hiking in the area taking in the peace and quiet as well as the uniqueness of the Plateau. Have a closer look at the extensive local flora – the cypress tree, the maple and pine tree, the “ambelitsia” from which the locals make their “katsounes” or walking sticks, but also the “stamnagathi”or “maroulida” (edible greens), the lilies, the anemones or even the “hamolia” an indigenous, self-sown bush with leaves resembling those of the olive tree and tiny pink blossoms with a unique, sweet scent. Ask the locals to point out these magnificent plants so that you can smell and see them up close- they will be only too happy and proud to do so! Maybe, as you are walking around the area, along the paths on the lower slopes, a frightened wild partridge will leap out from some bushes or maybe even a hare! It is also quite possible that you will observe a “gypaetos” (Griffon vulture) or a “hrysaetos” (Golden eagle) flying over your head – one of the very few left on the plateau and the surrounding mountains!
• Walk downhill to the area with the taverns which you met when first entering the Plateau. A few metres away to your right, you will find the stone path leading uphill to the church of Saint Pandeleimonas (the doctor-saint who heals)- his name day is on the 27th of July and there is always a feast on the Eve and on the Day. Right next to the church there is the House-headquarters and the grave of the famous Hatzi Mihalis Giannaris – a Rebel and Chieftain coming from the nearby village of Lakki who, due to his patriotism, unconquerable spirit and brave fighting against the Turkish conquerors of the Island, was called “the demigod of the White Mountains”. Sit outside the little church dedicated to his memory, take in the scenery as well as the tranquility of the landscape, breathe in the refreshing breeze gently blowing from the surrounding mountains- this is Crete in all its purity and glory!
Then walk downhill again, cross the main road and advance cautiously towards the entrance of the “Cave of Tzanis” or “Honos”- a huge vertical cave with a length of 2.5 kms. and a vertical drop of 241 m! It is actually a closed vertical gorge named after the chieftain Markos Tzanis or “Terror” since the mere mention of his name was enough to bring terror to the Turks! To bring your walk to a really pleasant close, sit outside the traditional taverns, in the shade of the tall poplar trees, listen to the wind rustling in their leaves, and enjoy your coffee or meal. This will give you the opportunity to taste delicious local dishes, to enjoy the friendly service of the local business owners, and to experience the traditional, genuine Cretan hospitality!
All the above- the images and the unprecedented tastes, the warm, welcoming friendliness of the locals, the relaxation and
the serenity of the area- are only some of the elements which will give you the real sense of the Omalos Plateau and of Crete as a whole: elements which remain with you long after the end of your stay with us and which will, in all probability, bring you back for a second, third or even for an …umpteenth visit!!